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Operating Engineer License and Certification Information

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become an operating engineer. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about training, job duties and certification requirements to find out if this is the career for you.

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You might need only a high school diploma or GED and a commercial driver's license to command heavy equipment as an operating engineer, but instead of relying on on-the-job training, it's recommended that you complete an apprenticeship or vocational program. Certification and licensing requirements are determined by states and by the type of equipment you'll be operating. Some employers may demand certification, particularly if you're interested in crane operation.

Essential Information

Operating engineers use heavy equipment, such as bulldozers, pavers, cranes, dump trucks and trench excavators, to build structures and move materials. These professionals might work in the construction, shipping or warehousing industries.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), most workers learn their trade through apprenticeship programs, although some private trade institutions offer training programs in this field. Operating engineers might need a commercial driver's license to move and operate equipment, and some states also have licensing regulations for certain types of heavy construction equipment. Trade certification also might be required by some employers, especially for professionals who operate cranes.

Required Education Completion of an apprenticeship program or vocational training
Other Requirements Commercial driver's license; additional equipment operating licenses and certification might be required
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) Construction equipment operators: 10%*
Median Salary (2015) $44,600*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Certification Information

Some employers require operating engineers to be certified. The International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) offers the Operating Engineers Certification Program (OECP) for engineers who want to showcase their abilities to operate certain types of cranes. Certifications are available in the use of boom truck, lattice, overhead, telescopic boom and tower cranes.

To be eligible, candidates must be members of the IUOE and accrue 1,000 hours of experience using cranes. Those looking to become certified tower crane operators must provide documentation of at least 500 hours in tower crane experience or training. Eligible individuals must pass written and practical exams.

Training Information

Although candidates can enter the field immediately after high school and gain experience through on-the-job training, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) notes that those who complete apprenticeships might have better job opportunities. Usually, apprenticeship programs require applicants to be at least 18 years of age and able to complete physically demanding work. A high school diploma is recommended but is not a requirement for admission.

Apprenticeship programs typically last 3-6 years. Requirements vary but typically include 6,000 hours of on-the-job training and 9-11 weeks of classroom instruction each year. Programs begin with classroom instruction on safety principles and might include the Occupational Health and Safety Administration's 10-hour course. Once these are complete, apprentices learn operating, maneuvering and excavating techniques for bulldozers, backhoes and other heavy equipment.

Salary Information and Career Outlook

According to the BLS, jobs for construction equipment operators were expected to increase by 10% between 2014 and 2024. This was faster than the national average for all careers. Additionally, the BLS reported that operating engineers made a median annual salary of $44,600 as of May 2015.

Depending on the type of equipment or the administering agency, apprenticeship programs can take as long as six years to complete. Programs consist of classroom instruction as well as practical field work and can enhance the possibility of landing the job you want. Employment opportunities are expected to increase at a faster rate than the national average for all occupations through 2014.

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